THIS weekend sees one of the most popular animal awareness days on the conservation calendar: World Snow Leopard Day.

New visitors are often astounded to discover such magnificent apex predators tucked away in a quiet corner of South Lakeland, and, odd as it sounds, in one way, we’d rather not need to have them here at all.

Much as it’s wonderful to introduce people to these magnificent creatures, we don’t do it because they’re beautiful, we do it as part of vital conservation and education programmes.

Incredibly vulnerable to poaching, climate change, and habitat and prey loss across their native Himalayan habitat, there are probably fewer than 8,000 left in the wild, possibly as few as 4,000.

Faced with this crisis situation, it’s testament to the passion and expertise of our founders, Jo and Dave Marsden, that the Oasis was were accepted onto the European Endangered species breeding Programme (EEP) for snow leopards in 2011.

Our pair, Tara and Pavan, have had three cubs: Loki and Luna in 2014, followed by cheeky Chris (named by our visitors) in 2018.

Because they have a valuable role in sustaining the species, all three have gone on to new partnerships at fellow European zoos, where Luna has started a dynasty of her own.

Our two could well breed again.

Coming at the start of half-term, keepers have been busy organising fun and informative events around World Snow Leopard day.

Visitors can find out about conservation and monitoring of snow leopards in the wild, and hear about Tara and Pavan’s invaluable contribution to captive breeding programmes.

Culminating in a special talk and feed, it’s a chance to get a prey’s-eye view from the enclosure’s Perspex tunnel.

We also see an increase in bookings for our Meet the Carnivores stick-feeding experiences around this time, which is brilliant: the more connection and understanding, the more direct action we can take to help restore their wild habitats.

I pinch myself every day that I work with these incredible predators, it certainly wasn’t what I’d envisaged as a youngster.

Lucky lucky me.